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Radar, Hula Hoops, and Pregnant Pigs:
67 Digestible Commentaries in the Fascinating Chemistry of Everyday Life (1999)

Joe Schwarcz, Ph.D.

McGill professor Joe Schwarcz has come out of the ivy closet with a collection of delightful, instructive, witty and thoroughly accessible essays, none of which requires any formal knowledge. Come as you are. His subjects range from the commonplace molecular magic of shampoos, soybeans, blue jeans, chocolate and tea to the truly lurid: the secret of making zombies with a simple toxin extracted from the sex organs of blowfish, the lethal power of Spanish Fly and the chemical basis of Salem witch hysteria. You'll learn who put the lime in limelight, what famous laboratory spill created the first plastic (needed to replace rare ivory in billiard balls), how MSG became "the most maligned and misunderstood of all food additives," why champagne really does get you drunker faster and "absinthe makes the tart grow fonder," and which compounds are found abundantly in both Camembert cheese and the skin of sweaty feet. There is trustworthy advice on which herbal supplements might work, a hair-raising history of the race to develop the first anesthetic (one contender killed himself; another went insane), and an account of why Schwarcz eats chalk in class. Not to mention the inside story of the CIA's attempt to use cockroach sex pheromones for spycraft: "The idea was to apply a few drops of this concoction to a person under surveillance and to track that person with a cage containing virile male roaches that would stampede" at a whiff of the stuff. It's so much fun that you'll barely notice how much you're learning.

--Curt Suplee                                  


Those Fascinating Chemicals!
Down the Hatch
Chemical Crimes
Health and Disease
Sense or Nonsense
The Bottom Line

About the Author

Dr. Schwarcz is director of McGill University's Office for Chemistry and Society. In addition to teaching chemistry at McGill, he hosts a weekly "phone-in" show about chemistry on Montreal radio station CJAD, writes a weekly column called "The Right Chemistry" in the Montreal Gazette, and has a regular TV feature entitled "Joe's Chemistry Set" on the Canadian Discovery Channel.

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